Joy Popularity EC (b&w)

The bandwagon of “uncool”

It seems that every time something obscure becomes popular, its older fans scramble to distinguish themselves from newer fans. It also seems that every time something popular or mainstream comes out, there will always be an army of people who immediately announce their utter disgust toward it. At first, it may seem like disliking popular things is strange or unique, but a knee jerk reaction to hate all things that are popular is actually the opposite of unique.

It is an inconvenient truth that most people will form an opinion on something without actually experiencing it. There are those who won’t watch movies because they hear too much about them on the internet or because the critic scores are too low. There are others who refuse to even touch pop music because of the preconceived notion that all pop music is stale and reductive. While it’s good to add a healthy dose of skepticism to anything, an irrational aversion to popular things doesn’t count as a legitimate philosophy for judgment. Blind ignorance of popular things isn’t a particularly educated or nuanced stance to take either, since there is no reason to hate something unfamiliar. Many legitimate criticisms about ready-to-consume culture already exist, but those criticisms stem from the inherent qualities of individual works themselves and aren’t affected by the work’s popularity.

Although popular media has always had a problem with appealing to the masses while maintaining artistic integrity, popularity alone is not a justification to disregard something. After all, the quality of the work doesn’t change whether two people or 200 million people like it. However, hyper-commercialized media has garnered an unsavory reputation. Usually, popular media is designed to appeal to the largest amount of people possible. This means that much of popular media will shy away from making bold or unique creative decisions in favor of a more bland but palatable experience. However, not all advances in art or culture come from the fringes of society. A large part of creating progress in art and entertainment is a breakthrough into the mainstream, like the gradual mainstream acceptance of hip hop music in the 21st century after its controversial emergence in the 1990s. It’s easy to just group everything in the mainstream as one big collection of inconsequential fluff, but that sort of simplistic view is counterproductive to the advancement and promotion of artistic progress, as it discredits any artist that dares enter the mainstream.

A major issue at the center of the debate over popular media is its quality and longevity as an artform. After all, the vast majority of older pop culture has become dated and forgotten. When creators put money over creativity, most of what they make is just errant trend chasing: made to appeal to whatever the public is currently consuming. But there are many exceptions to the cynical view that everything popular must have been created for the purpose of being popular. Just look at the successful films of visionary directors like Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky or the groundbreaking albums of musicians like Frank Zappa and Richard D. James. Quality and integrity do not have to be discarded in order for something to be popular. Successful is not synonymous with boring or simple, and most good high quality works of art are recognized sooner or later by the public.

A large part of the pushback against popular media can also be attributed to a fear of the unfamiliar. When rock and roll first became popular in America, it was met with resistance and disapproval from the more conservative parts of the popular music community. Over time, however, rock and roll records became treated exactly like the classics of the past. It is good to put the evolution of contemporary media forms like film and music into perspective because it reminds us that views on pieces of art change over time. What is currently considered trendy now may be considered a classic by future generations of consumers, and classics from before had less than unanimous acclaim when they were premiered.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything popular is supposed to be revolutionary or exceedingly high quality. There are times when it’s obvious that a movie is just an unoriginal sequel or an album is just pandering to fans of a trendy genre. But to deem popular things bad without any reason besides them being popular is poor reasoning. There are many valid reasons to dislike popular media, but that still doesn’t mean people should go around bashing anything they don’t like. In the end, mainstream entertainment is still entertainment, so why should it be discounted for less?

By Jason Wu, Sports editor
Editorial cartoon by Joy Wang